Carbohydrates and Inflammation

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Carbohydrates might worsen or ease inflammation, depending on the source. (Image: Eduard Lysenko/iStock/Getty Images)

Inflammation is a process by which your body’s chemicals and white blood cells work to protect you from foreign substances, such as viruses and bacteria. Diseases, such as arthritis and bursitis, trigger inflammation when no cause is present, causing pain, swelling, stiffness and fever. Improving your diet might help manage these effects, according to the Linus Pauling Institute, or LPI. Depending on the source, carbohydrates might affect inflammation in positive and negative ways.

Relationship

Carbohydrates provide glucose, which is your body's main dietary source of energy. Carb sources vary significantly in nutritional benefits and the impact they might have on inflammation. Low-glycemic carbs, which have a mild impact on your blood sugar levels, can help reduce inflammation, according to the LPI. High-glycemic carbs, on the other hand, can cause blood sugar irregularities and trigger or worsen inflammatory responses.

Types

Carbs are present in many foods, including grains, sweets, fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Low-glycemic carb sources include whole grains, such as barley, oats and brown rice, fresh fruits and vegetables, and unsweetened dairy products, such as low-fat milk and yogurt. "Arthritis Today" recommends choosing whole grains, such as brown rice and whole wheat bread, instead of refined grains, such as white flour and instant rice, for reduced inflammation and enhanced weight control. Additional high-glycemic foods include puffed rice and corn flake cereals, regular soft drinks, candy, skinless potatoes, doughnuts and dried dates.

Evidence

In a study published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in February 2006, researchers analyzed the whole-grain intake and wellness of 938 healthy men and women. Participants who ate the most whole grains showed significantly greater blood sugar control, and more positive cholesterol levels and inflammatory markers compared with participants who ate few whole grains. High glycemic diets also have been linked with increased blood levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker associated with heart disease.

Suggestions

To prevent or reduce inflammation, replace refined foods with low-glycemic foods. Replace your sugary breakfast cereal with steel-cut oats, for example, and instant noodles with whole wheat pasta. Fruit juices, dried fruits and canned fruit stored in heavy syrup are high-glycemic, so choose whole, fresh fruits most often. For additional benefits, avoid saturated fats and trans fats, which also promote inflammation, according to the LPI. Common sources include red and processed meats, high-fat cheeses, stick margarine, whole milk and commercially-prepared cookies, pastries and crackers. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are prevalent in coldwater fish, such as salmon and mackerel; flaxseeds; and walnuts, might reduce inflammation. Aim for balanced meals and snacks that emphasize nutritious foods. When you do indulge in refined grains, sweets or fatty foods, stick to modest portions.

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